Dancer Sae Eun Park has become the first South Korean to earn the top “etoile” title at the Paris Opera ballet, an honour reserved for just a handful of dancers in the company, including Ludmila Pagliero, who became the first Latin American etoile in 2012.
“We have all had the pleasure tonight of seeing a magnificent dancer who has shown us the extent of her talent,” Opera director Alexander Neef said. “It gives me immense pleasure to name Mademoiselle Sae Eun Park an etoile dancer.”
The announcement was made to a standing ovation, following Park’s performance as the lead in Romeo and Juliet at the Opera Bastille on Thursday night.
Elevated to “first dancer” in 2017 – the second-highest status – Sae Eun Park has been lauded for her elegant and fluid technique.
Born in Seoul in December 1989, she joined the company a decade ago, having already been a soloist in her home country.
“With the Korean National Ballet, I was already a soloist and dancing lead roles. When I joined the Paris Opera, I was always in the background, but I learned a lot,” she said in 2019.
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Park won the Grand Prix de Lausanne at 17 and the Gold Medal at Varna, two of the leading prizes in the world for aspiring dancers.
The daughter of a pianist and Samsung employee, she initially trained in the Russian “Vaganova” style of ballet in Seoul.
She discovered the French style when she took a class from a Korean ex-member of the Paris Opera.
“It was a revelation,” she recalled.
“Vaganova is more about the upper body. The French style relies more on the feet. The technique came more naturally to me.”
But she also had wise words from her former Russian teacher: “She told me, ‘Don’t forget that despite the differences in style, the important thing is to express what is within you.'”